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The Vegetarian is a story set in modern South Korea, a highly urbanized and industrialized country, with a focus on the deeply disturbed society having to deal with the colliding of the traditional ways of thinking in a globalized environment. The intricacies of the narrative reminded me of the Brazilian novel The Only Happy Ending for a Love Story Is an Accident placed in high-tech Tokyo, in the sense that it mixes up reality and fantasy in order to grasp the human endeavour of finding its place in the world.
The first chapter is a finely-brushed depiction of a domestic couple dealing with its everyday problems in a dull routine and settled-down acceptance that hints so abruptly to the Korean conservative conventions of marriage as a means of existence and not happiness. The tedious and simple couple life is seriously shaken up with Yeong-hye’s decision to give up meat and engage a vegetarian lifestyle which her husband, Mr. Cheong, disapproves of. Moreover, he sees his wife’s change as a deliberate attempt to hurt him, as women are not supposed to decide for themselves, let alone have such strong personal opinions:
As far as I was concerned, the only reasonable grounds for altering one’s eating habits were the desire to lose weight, an attempt to alleviate certain physical ailments, being possessed by an evil spirit, or having your sleep disturbed by indigestion. In any other case, it was but sheer obstinacy for a wife to go against her husband’s wishes as mine had done.
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